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Published 08 November 2023
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Girl Maths – a Fun or Toxic Way to Rethink Your Spending Habits?

Girl maths is the TikTok trend that sees women rationalise their spending habits, sometimes in ways that may seem illogical. But is it as harmful as some critics claim?

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Did you know that returning items to a shop and getting a refund means you’ve made money or that paying for delivery because you haven’t spent enough to get free shipping means losing money?

Confused? These are just a couple of examples of the questionable logic of ‘girl maths’, one of the latest financial trends to find fame on TikTok.

Predominantly women are taking to the video-sharing social media website to justify their spending habits and purchases in creative, if sometimes illogical, ways. For example:

Many see the trend for what it is, just a bit of fun. However, it has been widely ridiculed and even labelled dangerous over fears that it could encourage people to overspend and get into debt. There are also concerns that it fuels the stereotype that women are irresponsible with money.

But could girl maths help you think more carefully about your spending habits? Even if its logic is questionable, if you’re spending within your means, what’s the harm in splashing out on a treat now and then without feeling guilty about it?

It’s all about mindful spending

While individual examples of girl maths can stretch logic to the extreme, it’s wrong to dismiss it completely.

Charlotte Jessop, founder of money education website Looking After Your Pennies, pointed out in an email to NerdWallet that girl maths can help people think about their relationship with money.

“One of the best things to come out of the ‘girl maths’ trend is that it highlights that money management isn’t all about money in versus money out. How we perceive money matters,” she explained. 

She went on to say that “money is emotional”, and that instead of immediately “slashing your spending and making a budget” you should deal with the emotional side of money. 

For example, mental health charity Mind acknowledges it’s common for people to feel guilty about spending money – even when they can afford to. It advises that “getting to know the feelings and emotions you have around money might help you to spot patterns in your behaviour, and feel more in control”.

Mind suggests that one way of doing this could be keeping a note of your mood when you choose to spend or not spend money, or even recording how you felt before and after making a purchase.

Amy Ward, personal finance blogger and creator of Amy’s Budgeting, agrees that elements of girl maths have been positive.

“The trend has got so many people talking about money and finances. No matter how we view this trend … It can definitely teach us lessons about money management. It makes us think about ‘cost per use’, more mindful spending and finances as a whole.”

Working out how much use you’ll get from a purchase is a key feature of girl maths, and it can be a good way for anyone to think about their spending habits.

For example, Ward said: “Upfront a pair of shoes that cost £100 might seem really expensive, but if you wear these all the time their cost per use is low, whereas, a pair of shoes that cost you £15 and you only wear once, is simply not as cost effective.”

However, it’s all very well to have good intentions about the amount of times you’ll wear or use something, but you need to be able to afford it in the first place. You’ll also need to follow through and not buy another new item after just a handful of uses to get value for money.

The sums of ‘girl maths’ do not always add up…

You only need to watch a few girl maths TikToks to see they’re not jam-packed with the best budgeting advice. 

Ward said: “The mindset that anything under £5 is free and other aspects of girl maths can be dangerous as, whether that be £1, £2.50 or £5 spent, this is still money gone that you had before.”

If you think like this and constantly find ways to justify lots of purchases, especially more expensive ones, there is a real risk of spending beyond your means and getting into debt.

But you can adapt girl maths ‘logic’ and turn it into a more useful way of thinking about your spending habits, as Ward explained.

“One way to combat the dangers of girl maths is instead of having the mindset ‘I didn’t buy a coffee, so I’ve made money’, you can always try an alternative method of ‘I didn’t buy a coffee today, saving £3.50, so why not move that £3.50 into savings’.” 

… And it pushes a problematic stereotype

As long as you only spend what you can afford, have your finances under control and don’t use girl maths to justify building up unmanageable debt, it can help you think more mindfully about how you spend your money. 

But the idea of girl maths can still be problematic, particularly in how it portrays women and money.

“The main concern with this trend is that it makes women look like they can’t be trusted with money. It perpetuates the myth that men should be in charge of finances because women don’t know what they are doing,” Jessop explained. 

She continued: “While some of the content on TikTok is relatable, it is relatable for both men and women and should be presented as such. Furthermore, it shouldn’t require a lot of made-up maths to buy ourselves a few treats every now and then.”

Ward agrees that trends like girl maths can highlight wider financial issues.

“I do think that overall we should be looking at ways to empower women when it comes to finances and fight the stereotype that girls are not as good at handling money as boys,” she said. “Learning and educating ourselves on money management skills is essential, as we all know we really weren’t taught much about finance in school.”

In defence of girl maths it can unlock guilt-free sensible spending 

There shouldn’t be an issue with using creative ways to justify buying lunch or treating yourself to concert tickets, for example, as long as you can afford it, stay in control of your finances and don’t find an excuse to overspend. 

A sensible step is setting yourself a budget that allows you to see how much money you can spend on little luxuries and non-essentials, while still covering your essential bills and leaving enough to put into savings.

And using a little girl maths can help spare you some of the guilt you may feel when treating yourself to some of those little luxuries and non-essentials.

Image source: Getty Images

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